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Future of Community radio in India bright

The Association of Community Radio Broadcasters are hopeful that India will emerge as a good good training ground for community radio.

india Updated: Feb 10, 2007 12:54 IST

One-step forward, two steps back...is this the fate of non-commercial, non-state radio broadcasting in Asia? It would seem so, going by the perceptions of a campaigner trying to promote community radio even as he says India holds out hope.

"Not much has moved in South Asia (in recent months)," said Suman Basnet, the Asia Pacific regional coordinator of AMARC, the French acronym for World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters.

Basnet, who was travelling through New Delhi and Bangalore recently, however, praised the developments in India calling them "most exciting".

"We are hopeful that India will emerge as a good training ground for community radio not just in South Asia, but in the Asia Pacific. This is an issue voiced by AMARC members from diverse regions," Basnet, 38, said.

"We're particularly interested in promoting the role of women in community radio and see a very big potential of that in India. By the very number of radio stations you're going to have in this country, it offers a vast playing field," he said.

"AMARC's interest to work in India is really deep because India is going to be comparable like Latin American countries like Colombia, where community radios are counted in thousands...and there's an explosion," said Basnet.

He said his visit to India was to consult with local campaigners to find out their needs. "It has to come from our Indian counterparts to tell us what is needed of us," he said.

Community radio - also called rural radio, cooperative radio, participatory radio, free radio, alternative, popular or educational radio - operates out of rural or urban areas, is broadcast to small areas and offers alternate, non-commercial, non-state voices to a diverse set of people via the radio.

India has just opened up its 'community radio' possibilities with a new official policy announced in mid-November 2006. Earlier, for a couple of years, it was mostly 'campus radio' stations that were being allowed.

Currently AMARC has barely half-a-dozen members in India.

"Lot of the knowledge probably exists in India, probably have to make it visible and present it in an organised way to those searching for it (as far as low-cost radio technology goes)," he says.

AMARC is the international umbrella organisation of community radio broadcasters founded in 1983, with nearly 3,000 members in 110 countries. After being focussed in Latin America and elsewhere, it recently stepped up its presence in Asia and is in cyberspace at asiapacific.amarc.org.

"Bangladesh is still stuck with draft law, as political priorities have changed there. Nobody is discussing community radio there. Instead they are discussing political issues and interim rule," said Basnet

In Pakistan, he said, nothing has happened.

"Private radios are there (in Pakistan), some new licenses have been given. After the earthquake in 2005 and the strong role radio stations played, there is a strong voice that the government should be more open to give community radio at least in disaster prone areas. But nothing has happened," he said.

But one country where something interesting has happened is Nepal, said Basnet who is based in Kathmandu.

"The king's very oppressing regime that saw community radio fighting for survival is over. There has been a major turnaround in the politics. Now the focus is on the interim constitution. The challenge for radio is for local radio stations to ensure that people participate in the whole process. Otherwise it will be an elite, city-driven process of drafting a constitution."

The other challenge for radio campaigners, he said, is to ensure that Nepal's new constitution acknowledges the role of community radio.

He said in a region like South Asia, low-powered non-commercial radio could be one tool to "give a voice to the rural areas, women and the poor" where the other media is more "city and elite driven".

Basnet said 300 radio stations had been shut down in Thailand after the military coup, and in the Philippines the entire media, including radio, was being "bullied so much" with journalists being murdered, that several radio stations had "voluntarily" closed down operations.

Indonesia too is caught in a bureaucratic and political process, and still struggling with legislations, he said.